Reasons for Hope

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Initiatives that protect natural resources and improve social justice are being hatched all over the world, every day. Most of these initiatives are the products of grass-roots innovation. Micro-lending is a perfect example of how individuals are finding solutions and about 100 million people are improving their lives and their communities with small, profitable, targeted loans from micro-lending institutions, both public and private. Micro-lending was, of course, invented by a few individuals trying to help the poor.

At the peak of the boom in sport-utility vehicles, Honda and Toyota started building clean, efficient hybrid cars and they are only now catching up with the demand almost a million hybrid cars later, even with a 20-percent price premium on the hybrids. Now in business, it’s more expensive to manufacture too few units of a popular product than it is to manufacture too many. Honda, Toyota, Ford and the other automobile manufacturers have consistently underestimated the demand for their hybrid products and they haven’t been able to sufficiently curb the demand by overpricing the cars, either. I get tickled every time I think about the automobile marketers trying to figure out how big a premium they can put on clean technology – and then falling short.

Today’s consumer is happy to pay extra for food, cosmetics, clothing and just about anything else if he or she can be assured that the product was provided in a conscientious way. That’s how we bought and sold $60 billion worth of organics last year. I don’t know how we can fail to find this inspirational.

Biology has, of course, programmed us to reproduce as rapidly as possible and to consume everything useful in our path. We know we can’t keep living that way. Global warming is a serious problem, but it’s only a symptom of the larger underlying problem. We are overpopulating the planet. Unless you’re depending on some supernatural event to suspend biological reality, we’re on a path that ends in a catastrophe for Homo sapiens and most of the other species who currently live on the planet. Sooner or later, that’s where we end up.

No other living thing has ever, so far as we know, consciously limited its own expansion. We’re at least giving it some serious consideration.

We might consider this our ultimate spiritual exercise, the Great Riddle humanity has grappled with since we first tasted “the fruit of the tree of self knowledge,” if you will, and became self-aware.

The gospels of Christianity, Judaism and Islam all promise us “dominion” over nature. At least “dominion” is the word I picked up from the King James Bible in Sunday school. Might the translation just as easily have been “responsibility,” or “stewardship?” I haven’t bothered to brush up on my Biblical scholarship because I don’t think it matters. One goes with the other. If this planet is our prescribed domain, if we hold “dominion” over it, we obviously bear responsibility for it.

And, wondrously, we know it. We can conceptualize this: If we keep on being our natural selves, reproducing and defending our turf and consuming the natural resources laid before us, we’re going to face a catastrophic collapse of the systems on which we depend.